Young refugees: Education must be a priority even in emergencies

The winning essays of the international writing contest organised by INEE (Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies) talk about the importance of education. Among the published pieces are the essays of two young refugees, who are studying in a school managed by Finn Church Aid (FCA) in Liberia. They – as children, young people and adults living in emergencies usually do – highly value education. However, not enough funds are available for education in emergencies.

The Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies organised a writing contest for children and young people living in the worst humanitarian crises around the world. Participants came from 52 countries. Twelve pieces were selected for publishing from the over 700 entries. Included are the essays of two young refugees from the Ivory Coast, who are living in a refugee camp in Liberia and study in a school supported by Finn Church Aid.

FCA is providing secondary education and vocational training for young people in the refugee camps of Bahn, PTP and Little Wlebo. The disputed presidential elections of 2010 and the violence that followed forced hundreds of thousands of Ivoirians to abandon their homes and seek refuge in Liberia.

“In difficult times, education allows the younger generation to forget the pain and suffering they experienced. To those who are victim of crisis and who are vulnerable, education opens their future to new opportunities. Indeed, us young refugees need to make up the time we have lost,” Mahikan Desiree writes in her essay. She is a 21-year-old Ivorian currently living in Liberia.

“The education that we received was necessary, though being in time of emergency. That education was very important because it kept us busy, prevented us from engaging in gangs, and from having a loose and immoral life course. Besides, it prepared us to be adequately equipped, in order to face successfully the challenges that awaited us when we returned home. Moreover, it made us useful in the society, rather than making us useless. That is to say, we lost everything we had (homes, parents, relatives, friends even food), but education was not lost, because it is the key to a happy life.” writes Gompou, 19, from Ivory Coast, currently living in Liberia.

Children and young people living amidst conflicts and crises value education very highly and see its importance on par with other essential needs. An estimated 57 million children in the world aren’t in school; 40 % of them live in conflicts. Currently, less than 2 % of humanitarian aid is directed towards education. Secondary education in particular is often neglected, and the young people who miss it easily fall into bad ways.

“Even though there are many challenges in organising education in refugee camps, we have succeeded in many aspects. In Liberia, the number of girls going to school grew when we opened day care centres adjacent to the schools,” explains Finn Church Aid education specialist Minna Peltola.

“Last year, 90 % of students in Liberia passed their final exams at the end of the semester. The fact that 18 students continued onto university studies speaks highly of the quality of our work. Also, the UN refugee agency UNHCR asked FCA to manage a third refugee school in the Little Wlebo camp in Maryland, Liberia.”

Finn Church Aid supports the education of children and young people in emergencies and conflicts in Nepal, Myanmar, Liberia, South Sudan, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Jordan.

A link to the published essays: The Brightest Hope: Essays from around the world on the importance of education in times of crisis

Further information:
Minna Peltola, Education Specialist, p. +358 40 739 5612
Leena Lindqvist, Regional Representative, West and Central Africa, p. +231 880 810 518 (Liberia)
Minna Elo, Communications Officer, p. +358 50 330 9747